SHOULD I SEE IT?
Family, about a teenage girl running away to a local Gathering of the Juggalos event is the endearing comedy/drama I never knew I needed.
Two terrific performances from Taylor Schilling and Bryn Vale more than make this worthwhile.
Overcomes familiar, even predictable tropes, to still win you over with great, witty dialogue, and an engaging story of a young girl finding out where she fits in the world.
Some people push back against movies with self-absorbed adults watching impressionable and innocent children, and Family, for all the good it contains, is another one of those movies.
Though it payloads a lot of Juggalo content in the final 15 minutes and over the end credits, the Juggalo movement and Insane Clown Posse band is largely an afterthought. This did not bother me personally, but those expecting more involvement from their beloved hip-hop duo will potentially be disappointed.
The caustic wit and snappy dialogue may grow tiresome for some viewers.
You may not have asked for a cynical, biting comedy/drama about a broken family trying to find a missing daughter at the Gathering of the Juggalos, and yet for anyone needing that void filled in life…we have Laura Steinel’s debut as writer and director, Family.
Taylor Schilling is terrific as Kate, a hedge fund manager who works non-stop and bulldozes and verbally abuses staff and co-workers around her. Isolated, by choice, in her work life, Kate is contacted in desperation by her estranged brother, Joe (Eric Edelstein). He and wife Cheryl (Allison Tolman) must help move her mother into hospice and no one is available to watch after their 11-year-old daughter, Maddie (Bryn Vale).
Adamant in her refusals, Kate gives in to the pleas of her brother and has virtually no clue what to do with, or how to take care of, her withdrawn and socially awkward niece. The expected fish-out-of-water moments arrive; Maddie is late for school, Kate ignores rules set forth by her brother, she is a bad role model, forgets Maddie at a gas station, lets her eat all the chicken parmigiana she wants, and on and on.
What makes Family so entertaining is the instant chemistry generated by Schilling and Vale on screen. Vale is a tremendous discovery in what amounts to her feature-film debut. Together, and with Schilling’s terrific turn, we are carried past the tried-and-true patterns these types of films always generate.
Nothing here is really a surprise from a narrative standpoint.
Notably, Steinel’s screenplay hits its marks when it comes to analyzing corporate culture and scratches a little below the surface on why Kate is so razor sharp in every one of her interactions. And even if the subplots involving Kate’s estrangement from her family are a little lacking in depth and meaning in how they are presented, Steinel nails the internal consternation felt by Maddie.
A bullied middle-school girl with few, if any, friends, she feels different, looks different in her eyes, and likes a lot of things her peers don’t. Communicating her feelings are hard and she doesn’t especially want to interact with her classmates. She does, though, want to find a place to feel safe and accepted, something Kate connects with more personally than she initially realizes.
A great supporting cast, including 2018 breakthrough Brian Tyree Henry as an affable karate teacher, Matt Walsh as an exasperated colleague, and Kate McKinnon as a noisy, covenants-following neighbor builds a nice ensemble for Schilling to gel with.
But what of the Juggalos and Insane Clown Posse? Great question.
A chance encounter between Maddie and a teenage boy obsessed with Juggalo culture (Fabrizio Guido) gives her a place to circle back to near the end of the film. A series of events come together and take us to a local Juggalo gathering at a nearby campground. For a film with trademark ICP clown paint featured prominently on the poster, Juggalo culture is kept away until the last minutes of the film.
Truth be told, it’s an odd decision to wait so long. Juggalos are essentially here as a prop to try and unify deep-seeded emotional chasms Maddie and Kate have felt but never expressed. The band has a short cameo and the end credits are devoted to Juggalos talking about being loved and accepted for who they are. The sentiment is genuine and nice, if not still marginalized in a way that almost feels counterintuitive to the very reason the film places us in that world in the first place.
Regardless, Family has a lot we can appreciate. The acting is top-notch, much of Steinel’s dialogue and pacing sharp and crisp, and it makes this superior to many other films which has mined similar territory.
Honestly, I could watch Schilling and Vale act together again. And while I am not advocating for a sequel, per se, maybe a spinoff series might be in order?
CAST & CREW
Starring: Taylor Schilling, Bryn Vale, Brian Tyree Henry, Eric Edelstein, Allison Tolman, Kate McKinnon, Jessie Ennis, Blair Beekin, Matt Walsh, Fabrizio Guido, Karan Kendrick, Peter Horton.
Director: Laura Steinel
Written by: Laura Steinel
Release Date: April 19, 2019
The Film Arcade